How Denmark Inspires

The Danish Japanese Connection: Team Leader at the Danish Embassy, Tokyo, Kasper Hansen

By Helen Russell 

In celebrating the connection between Denmark and Japan, we're highlighting different members of the island nation’s 600-strong expat Danish community. To that end, we were wondering what it's like to be a Viking in Japan's famously ordered, etiquette driven society? And what do Danes miss when they’re far from home? We caught up with Kasper Hansen - originally from Esbjerg in Jutland, who now lives and works in Tokyo as team leader at the Danish Embassy—and asked him to share a few of his cultural comparisons.

Skagen Journal: What do you see as the main differences between Japan and Denmark?

“The most striking thing is the way people interact with each other. Japanese people are polite and good at reading non-verbal communication. I think Danes are less aware of how they come across! The business culture in Japan is also different—at the embassy we have to explain to Danish companies coming over that ‘when someone says this, they probably mean this…’ Things aren’t always straightforward in Japan. Reaching a decision can take longer and there’s even more of a consensus culture than there is in Denmark. 

Skagen: What do you think Danes can learn from the Japanese? 

“Danes may be the unofficial world champions of cycling infrastructure—with special cycle lanes and the whole of Copenhagen set up to cater for cyclists—but when it comes to trains, there is no one above, besides or even near the Japanese. Public transport here works amazingly well and Denmark could learn a lot from Japan in this area.”

Skagen: And what can the Japanese learn from the Danes?

“At the embassy, we try to communicate what we believe are Denmark’s strengths to the Japanese. We think Danes have something to offer in terms of green and sustainable solutions—and I think that the way these solutions come about and are implemented can serve as inspiration for Japan.” 

Skagen: What’s surprised you in terms of similarities between the two cultures? 

“Danes and the Japanese have the same ideas about aesthetics and simplicity. Danish design, for example, is very popular in Japan. Both cultures also have an emphasis on using seasonal, local produce and presentation is important. It’s like with New Nordic Cuisine—if you have great raw materials, you should do as little with them as possible.”

Skagen: What do you miss from home?

“It may sound strange, but I really miss leverpostej—or liver pate—made from ground up pig livers. It’s a really traditional, comforting dish in Denmark but it hasn’t made it over to Japan—yet! But Japanese food is really good and Tokyo is an international city—so if you want to cook Danish food, you can find most of the ingredients you need.”

Skagen: Where do you go in Japan when you’re craving the feeling of Denmark?

“I would go to Hokkaido—the northernmost of the four main Japanese islands. There are green fields, wide open spaces, they have cooler summers, and there’s great seafood—it has a similar feeling to Denmark. And if you’re lucky, you can even spot a windmill or two, which really makes it feel like home!